Israel Stories

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Dealer

The room was deadly silent, you could’ve heard a pin drop if you had one, but as it happened none of us had one, just two cards and another five on the table in front of us. The silence was shattered by five red poker chips being thrown into the pot. “See your five and raise you five”. One by one all of us peered at out cards, making all the necessary calculations, trying to count the cards, trying to assess what each other was holding and hoping for a little luck.

In Edward Whittemore’s classic Jerusalem Poker, the stakes are no less than control of Jerusalem itself, but this game the stakes were higher, this was a morality play, charity over lies.

“Ok. I’ll see your five” called my friend, “and raise you ten, what the hell its only money.” I have a little bit of a social conscientious and the phrase ‘what the hell it’s only money’ some what disturbs me especially when I think of Jews lying on the streets of Jerusalem in poverty. I threw my additional five chips in, “see you” I called and made a mental note to divide my winnings, half for me half for charity. The human mind has a wonderful way of justifying and rationalizing two concepts which are the antithesis of each other i.e. throwing money away and poverty.

I lost.

Now I was upset, he had prevented me from making a sizable donation to charity. I resolved to continue playing until I was ‘up’. Anything over twenty shekels would do it. This was big time gambling.

“Look”, I said to myself or maybe it was a deal with heaven, ‘I need to win so I can give charity, its up to you, you make the cards fall right and the poor get a few shekels, if they don’t fall right I lose and have to lie to my wife, its all in your hands.”

I lost, again.

This was ridiculous; “look”, I whispered under my breath, “are you seriously telling me you would rather I lie to my wife than have the opportunity of giving charity?”

I lost again.

Then came the knock at the door. A voice mumbled tzeddaka, tzeddaka. We all counted our chips. Making the mental calculations. I came with twenty and am now three up, but I have a good hand and might have to bet more than I have, but I could win. Then again I could lose, but if I give him my money I will never know.

I answered the door, and a long black clothed arm with a letter from some Rabbi was thrust at me. It was written in Yiddish so it could have been about anything. “What do you know about Texas Hold’em?” I asked. He looked at me blankly.

My cards were good but my conscientious better. I removed twenty shekels from my wallet and handed it over. He nodded his head in thanks and walked off.

No change in my luck though, I lost again and again and again. When I went for my reserve twenty I realized I had given it away so I left the table despondent, thinking up an excuse for my wife.

“So how was it tonight? You win?”, “Actually, darling, I gave my money away to charity!” “Yeh, yeh, I’m sure you did”.

I lost again

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Greengrocer

I distinctly remember Mrs. Tudor, the last of a bread of traditional greengrocers that only sold groceries.

Mrs. Tudor was old twenty five years ago. Mrs. Tudor used to complain, did she complain. We used to joke that if it wasn’t for her strict Anglican upbringing she could have been a Jewish mother.

But her complaining always took her back to fond memories of the war, the Second World War. “Ah”, she used sigh, “happy days all of us getting together, mucking in, down the Underground when the blitz was on. Everyone helped everyone else, happy days.”

It never occurred to me to mention that while she was having such a grand old time of it ‘down the Underground’ that the Jews were being murdered in Europe. Still she had her war and we had ours and I am sure if she had lost her house to a V2 rocket or lost a relative she wouldn’t have such happy memories. Try a whole family, Mrs. Tudor, try a whole dynasty, village town, country, continent, that’s what we lost. But I could never bring myself in later years to correct sweet old Mrs. Tudor. So she carried on sighing and serving fresh fruit vegetables and cola bottles.

Mrs. Tudor told me that although she was having a grand old time of it, she was eventually sent with her sister to live in the countryside away from the big city, just to be safe.

“You see in war you can’t guarantee that the enemy soldiers will only attack the enemy soldiers, its just not cricket you know”. I knew what she meant. War is evil and cruel and the civilian population always suffers, but just like the forties, the evil has to be wiped out.

What would Mrs. Tudor have said if her brave army had used her home as a base, launching rockets from her garden and firing from civilian areas, winning every perverted PR war because the other side was killing more civilians than them?

I don’t think Mrs. Tudor would have had a ‘grand old time of it’.

So this is a message to the Mrs. Tudors of today who think war is about mucking in and should be a sporting occasion, forget it. War is dirty and ugly and it has one sole purpose, destruction. Defending your country, on the other hand, is about survival.

The next time a suicide bomber blows up in a grocery store, I hope for Mrs. Tudors sake it’s not hers.

To Mrs. Tudor’s credit she doesn’t sell the UK Jewish Chronicle:,7340,L-3281084,00.html

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Scientist

Curley snorted, to me and any innocent bystander, a noticeable wave of concern rushed over us as Curley sucked his brains down to the back of his throat and then, to the envy of all terrorists, managed to launch his brains further than any suicide bomber could ever hope for, caught neatly in a handkerchief.

“What was the question again?” He asked, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

“Being such a controversial figure, what do you think your chances of receiving any recognition for your work in the field of genetics?”

“Well”, he continued, and then another snort and suck as everyone around him ran for cover, “I believe my work to be so revolutionary that the world will have to listen.”

In the UK no one sniffs on television, sweats and shows any discomfort. No one would scratch, itch, pick their nose and absolutely no one would pass wind. But this wasn’t the UK.

Curly snorted again, everyone cringed, than he rubbed his groin and started twisting his chest hair. His shirt was ironed in the Israeli fashion with his collar pressed back out to reveal a perfect ‘V’ from between his collar bone and the center of his chest. The collars were then folded back over his very 70’s looking jacket.

“I am an Israeli scientist”, he continued, “I am proud of my country and its achievements but its time we tried to integrate into the big world, you know blend in a little, then maybe we would be accepted.”

I can just imagine him blending in at the Nobel Prize ceremony. Amongst the Armani and Versace steps H&O man. Blend in, I think not. He reminds me of the charedim who switch there black hats for baseball caps when on holiday in Europe. They blend in like ET at Miss World.

“I recently spoke to my family in Haifa,” he continued “I said to them, keep your head down and don’t worry, I was there in 56, 67 and 73, I kept my head down and prayed I’m here today as a famous scientist on the brink of the greatest genetic discovery this year, so be careful, you never know what will be.”

I laughed but then I could get away with it, I wasn’t in the audience. But I saw people visibly weeping. What he said made a lot of sense to these seasoned Israelis.

I wanted to analyze what he said that set these people off into torrents of tears. Emotions were understandably running high. 1 week into the Hezbollah missile attacks and the North was taking a beating. People all over the country were scared and, with no end in sight, nervous for the future. Together with what he said would have brought a tear to anyone’s eye;

“Protect yourselves and be brave, I understand war first hand, all you can do is stay undercover and pray, I am testimony that the enemy cannot beat us and despite the odds Israel have excelled, we don’t know what will be but there is always hope “

With Israelis you have to read between the lines, see through the bravado, penetrate their masks and understand them.

The Israelis are not very good at blending in and nor should they be. Let them be proud of who they are. I could have watched the scientist’s interview in any other country with the sound turned down and still instantly recognized him as one of us.

Israelis have a style all of their own. Often embarrassing, especially if you’re from the West, but always distinctive.

Our badly dressed, uncouth, arrogant scientist will probably never get the Nobel Prize but I’m proud of him because he’s one of us. Even when he tries to blend in he’ll always be an Israeli.

Pray for our missing soldiers, our injured countrymen and the families of those lost to a heartless, bloodthirsty enemy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Green Line

The three American yeshiva students piled into my car.

“Thanks man, we’d be like stuck if it wasn’t for you, and we didn’t want to be here after night fall, we’ve been warned not to stay out by ourselves at night.”

Visions of all those 80’s horror films came to mind, Freddy Kruger meets Jason, young students being hacked to death for being beautiful and naive. These guys were certainly not beautiful.

“Yes, I said, Kfar Sava is in very close proximity to the green line.”

I looked in the rear view mirror at there appreciative smiles and clear relief to be inside a car speeding from the dangerous hotspot of Kfar Sava to Bet Shemesh.

“How long have you guys been out here?” I reckoned on about two weeks.

“This is our second” (smug smile) ………….” year.”

I nearly crashed the car. I did all that was humanly possible not to laugh.

“Oh,” I said.

“But this was our first time in Kfar Sava, we looked on the map and saw all the Arab villages and towns nearby, you know like Kelkilia and Jaljulia, dangerous places man, dangerous places. Much respect to the settlers who live here.”

“Where do you live?” I asked

“In the Old City” they replied together. I detected much pride and quite rightly, but I was confused.

“But isn’t the Old City very close to the Arabs you are so afraid of?”

“No man,” one of the laughed at my apparent naivety, “we are in the Jewish quarter, safe as anything”.

“Well actually, Oh forget it”. I hadn’t the strength to put them right and why ruin the stories they’d tell their pals and parents.

I decided to take the very long rout home. I had to make a stop in Tel Aviv. As we drove south through Tel Aviv and passed all Hotels, the boys started marveling the beach. Jaffa shimmered in the late afternoon sun. Then one of the boys started shouting.

“Hey guys, look over there a mosque, wow this is really turning out to be a dangerous ride man”.

The mosque in question is the one just by the Dolphinarium.

Then another shout, “look guys in the distance about three kliks, another mosque”.

This time it was Jaffa. It went very quiet in the back, nervous chatter turned to Tefilat Haderech.

“I had no idea,” said one of the boys, “that we were so close to the Arabs even in Tel Aviv.”

Heaven help them if they ever opened an atlas of the world and saw the tiny Jewish States location nestled among its Arab and Muslim neighbors.

You can imagine, a postcard arrives in Beverly Hills:

‘Dear Mom and Dad, hope you are OK. I am missing you. Israel is great and I am attending most of my lessons. Please can you increase my credit limit as the card doesn’t seem to be working, Dad can sort it out. Jerusalem is great, but my cell phone doesn’t work everywhere, but it’s not so bad. We were in Kfar Sava, its really on the edge, quite literally, right by the Arabs. It was dangerous but we are OK. I was thinking of visiting my cousins in Netanya but someone told me it’s only a few miles from Tul Karem so I think its best that I don’t. We are going on a trip to Hebron with the yeshiva in an armored bus, cant wait, it’ll be really cool. Not sure where Hebron is and why we need an armored bus, maybe its because of the dangerous drivers here.. Anyway, send my love to everyone and if Dad can fix my credit card it would be great. Your loving son, Shmuel (Sam).

“Any of you thinking about making Aliyah?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Of course man, this place is an adrenalin rush. We need to defend our people. This is our land. Jews for the Jewish Land, Israel is real! “

“So man, like did you do the army? Did you kill anyone? “

I thought about telling them the time I killed a fox on the mountain road to Jerusalem, very messy.

“Look guys, Israel isn’t just about the army, it’s about living day to day and not day by day. We worry about the country, the conflict with the Palestinians, but we also worry about work, what schools to send our kids to, where our bar-b-q will be on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Israel is about real life and real people.”

Silence and then “Yes, but we can do the army to?”

“It’s your duty”, I replied.

“Our duty”, they echoed with smiles on their faces.

I dropped the boys off in Bet Shemesh to catch a ride to Jerusalem. I wondered if the boys understood what Israel really meant, if they could see past the army and delusions of grandeur.

Who am I kidding?

At the time of writing this blog Gilad Shalit is still missing, please pray for his safe return.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of Eliyahu Asheri who was recently murdered by Palestinian terrorists and St.-Sgt. Yehuda Basel, killed serving his country. Their pain is unimaginable as the entire nation grieves along side them.